Picolit: an inimitable and rare meditation wine
The eastern hills of Friuli are both tart and sweet at the same time, spreading out over 70 kilometers (44 miles). The vistas that follow one after the other before the Alpine foothills alternate between wooded areas, tiny towns and rolling hills, where the terracing of vineyards gives evidence of man’s intervention in the area. When you think about it, it’s is nothing short of amazing, the human skill and determination necessary to shape the terrain to accommodate the precious fruits from which, in this case, incredible wines are produced.
The heart of the region is Cividale del Friuli, a city that offers rare artistic treasures, just as unique as the wine that comes from the surrounding vineyards, Picolit. In Friuli, a bottle is uncorked for special occasions, while in the rest of Italy, it is most likely seen as an extravagant gesture, given that when one discovers that it is a wine, the reaction is astonishment, ”Really??!!”
The production of this wine is extremely limited, just 55 hectares in all, which owes its exceptional nature to the fact that the grapes are interrupted during their flowering. This phenomenon prevents the stalk from thickening, restricting it to producing smaller, sweeter grapes. Just to give you an idea, a stalk of this type has at the most 10-15 grapes. This type of “semi-suicide” elevates it to a truly special wine.
Its uniqueness has been appreciated for centuries, as Picolit was already being cultivated at the time of the Roman Empire.
In the 1700s, a bottle could always be found on the tables of the most discriminating and refined popes and emperors.
Another celebrated figure of the 18th century, Carlo Goldoni, made what would now be called an endorsement, when he praised Picolit by calling it “the most resplendent enological jewel of the Friuli region”.
It was Count Fabio Asquini di Fagagna who ensured the grape would carry through to modern times, when he celebrated its qualities toward the end of the Enlightenment. A serious researcher and lover of wines, he documented and passed on the method for harvesting the grape and the wine-making process. Asquini not only produced an excellent wine, but he came up with the idea of bottling it in green bottles created by the glass-blowing factories in Murano. This winning combination led to “Picolit di Fagagna” being served on the tables of rich and noble families in Rome, Milan, Paris, London, Amsterdam, even Russia and the United States.
When Asquini died in 1818, Picolit risked vanishing and it was only the intervention of another enlightened family, the Perusini, that saved some examples of the vine variety. The Rocca Bernarda castle, acquired by Giacomo Perusini, became the hub around which the resurgence of Picolit was centered.
The fort located in Ipplis di Premariacco, in the province of Udine, is a fascinating spot and is obviously one of the most futuristic cellars dedicated to the production of Picolit.
The fort and the wine house is today owned by the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. It is a rather bizarre story, the details of which merit their own separate chapter. The fact that a wine-producing business in Friuli is owned by an order founded nine centuries ago in Jerusalem does rouse one’s curiosity.
In 2006, “Colli Orientali del Friuli – Picolit” attained D.O.C.G. certification, which guarantees the origin and quality of a wine.
Having said all this, what really counts is the surprising quality of the wine. It has a rich but delicate aroma, in which you can detect almonds, peaches, chestnuts, and, more generally, wildflowers and honey.
It pairs well with marbled cheeses, foie gras, chocolate, but in the end, it is best to taste and drink on its own, making it the star of a special evening. Given its history and essence, it seems fitting.